Daily Nexus Managing Editor Lexi Pandell was awarded first place in the “Best Feature” category of the 2010 California College Media Association journalism contest earlier this month.
Pandell’s article “Under the Influence” provided the context behind five UCSB student deaths related to drugs and alcohol that occurred over an 18-month period from 2008 to 2010. To write her story, Pandell investigated police files and autopsy reports and conducted dozens of interviews with friends and families of the deceased, as well as police, university administration and local hospital staff.
“None of the stories had been reported on beyond noting that the cause of death was pending a toxicology test,” Pandell said. “I was shocked to find out that our suspicions were right about all of the students we thought might have died from drug or alcohol related accidents. It’s really a huge number of people. The interviews were also very eye-opening and, of course, often very sad.”
The article saw an overwhelming community response in the form of online comments and letters soon after its May 2010 publication.
“I’ve never seen a year like that,” Isla Vista Foot Patrol Lt. Olmstead told Pandell for her article last year. “They were normal, everyday, good people who made a mistake.”
Jerry Roberts, former publications director of the Daily Nexus and a 30-year veteran of the newspaper business, advised Pandell for her first two years at the Nexus. Roberts said the award was a well-merited affirmation of Pandell’s talents.
“She handled a very difficult subject with compassion, completeness and fairness, turning what could have been a sensationalistic story about tragedy into an excellent piece of public service journalism,” Roberts said in an e-mail. “It sends a clear message to the paper’s readers and the campus community that the Nexus is a serious paper doing serious journalism that affects the real lives of real people at UCSB.”
Pandell will be attending UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in the fall.
“Lexi is a first-rate journalist who is a resourceful and relentless reporter, a graceful writer and a thoughtful and prudent editor,” Roberts said in an e-mail. “This rare combination of skills, along with her great work ethic, makes her a strong bet to be a professional journalism star after she leaves UCSB.”
Pandell, a fourth-year global studies major, started working for the Daily Nexus as a staff writer her sophomore year and was promoted to assistant county news editor her junior year after spending a semester in Ghana through UCSB’s Education Abroad Program. Enrolled in her last quarter at UCSB, Pandell currently works as managing editor. She ranks directly below the editor in chief and reports, writes and edits stories, in addition to conducting staff training sessions, organizing payroll and performing other administrative tasks.
The Daily Nexus, along with dozens of other state school newspapers, submits a number of entries to CCMA’s annual statewide contest under the daily news category. The competition typically has hundreds of entrants across all categories.
The paper has won numerous CCMA awards in past years, including “Best Breaking News,” “Best Editorial” and “Best Back-to-School Issue.” However, this is the first time in recent years that a student from the Nexus has won in the “Best Feature” category.
To see Pandell’s award-winning story, go to http://www.dailynexus.com/2010-05-10/influence-alcohol-drugs-feature.